SPORTS

Canada's Armstrong, Jamaica's Bolt among the ones to watch at the 2012 Games

12/22/2011 02:18 EST | Updated 02/21/2012 05:12 EST
Sprinters, swimmers and female boxers are the buzz heading into the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London from July 27 to Aug. 12. Here's a capsule look at 10 athletes to watch from both Canada and abroad:

CANADA

Dylan Armstrong — The shot putter from Kamloops, B.C., is poised to end Canada's century-long medal drought in Olympic throwing medals. The 30-year-old Armstrong, ranked No. 1 in the world, won the prestigious Diamond League title and a silver medal at the world championship in 2011. The last Canadian thrower to win an Olympic medal was Duncan Gillis, who earned a silver in discus in 1912.

Mary Spencer — Women's boxing makes its Olympic debut in London. A decision will be made in January if the females will compete wearing skirts, but Spencer punches hard in shorts or skirts. The 27-year-old from Windsor, Ont., is a three-time world champion. She continues the trend of Canadian women at the forefront whenever a new sport is introduced into the Games. Spencer can also help revitalize the country's boxing program, which hasn't won an Olympic medal since David Defiagbon's silver in 1996.

Adam van Koeverden — The 29-year-old kayaker from Oakville, Ont., is an elder statesman among Canada's Olympians, winning a medal of each colour over the last two Summer Games. His favourite event, the 500 metres, isn't on the menu in London, however. It's been replaced by the 200. Van Koeverden was Canada's flag-bearer at the opening ceremonies in 2008. He was touted as a double medallist in Beijing. Van Koeverden attacked hard and led for most of the 500 metres, but ended up with silver. He was eighth in the 1,000.

Priscilla Lopes-Schliep — The 29-year-old hurdler from Whitby, Ont., is among the growing legion of female athletes out to prove childbirth and child-rearing are no impediments to an Olympic title. Lopes-Schliep ranked No. 1 in the world in 2010 before taking a season off to have baby daughter Nataliya in September. The Olympic bronze medallist in 2008 has yet to set a date for a return to racing.

Clara Hughes — It's a tall order to ask the 39-year-old Hughes for yet another medal in yet another sport, but this woman has a high capacity for suffering in pursuit of Olympic glory. After winning four medals, including gold, in speed skating's distance events, the Glen Sutton, Que., native returned to cycling. Hughes won a pair of bronze medals at the 1996 Summer Games before strapping on the skates. While track cyclist Tara Whitten may be a better bet for a cycling medal, Hughes has Canada's most famous face among active Olympians.

INTERNATIONAL

Usain Bolt, Jamaica — The fastest man in the world talks of a Herculean feat in London. The Jamaican sprinter aims to defend his titles in the 100, 200 and 4x100 relay and chase gold in the 4x400 relay as well. The last male athlete to win four track and field gold was American Carl Lewis at the boycotted Summer Games of 1984. Former 400-metre champ Michael Johnson says no way can Bolt combine training for the 400 with the short sprints. Stay tuned.

Michael Phelps, U.S. — Alongside Bolt, the American swimmer was the star of the 2008 Games. Eight gold is the record for the most won at a single Games. The 26-year-old from Baltimore wrote in his book "No Limits" that he won't race as many events in London. The 2012 Games are also expected to be his last. Phelps will add more Olympic medals to the 16 he's already won before he's through.

Chris Hoy, Britain — Canada's winter athletes know about the pressure of competing in an Olympics at home. Britain has funnelled millions of pounds into its own version of Own The Podium. The attention on the host country's athletes will be immense. Hoy's three gold medals in track cycling in 2008 made him the first British athlete to win triple gold in a Games in 100 years. The Scotsman, whose nickname is "The Real McHoy" will be 36 in 2012.

Rafael Nadal, Spain — Few athletes at the Games have the world-wide recognition of Nadal, who owns 10 Grand Slam titles in tennis. The sight of Nadal at the 2008 opening ceremonies drew the loudest screams from volunteers in Beijing. Nadal says he's opting out of Davis Cup competition in 2012 so he can focus on defending his men's singles title in London.

Hope Solo, U.S. — The goalkeeper was the difference in a 1-0 extra-time win over Brazil in the 2008 Olympic women's soccer final. Solo's relationship with the U.S. team the year prior was rocky because she'd criticized coaching decisions made at the World Cup. Solo was named top goalkeeper at the 2011 World Cup, in which the U.S. lost the final 3-1 to Japan in a penalty shootout. There are men's magazines and websites in particular touting Solo as an athlete to watch. She posed nude for the ESPN 2011 "Body Issue." She also competed in this year's "Dancing With The Stars" and was eliminated in the semifinal round.

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